With help from a Lumina Foundation grant, the University System of Georgia (USG) is identifying students who earned enough credits for associate degrees but never received diplomas. The system is making the process easier for students to obtain those two-year degrees retroactively.
The objective of the Complete College Georgia initiative is for 60 percent of the state’s adult population to earn a higher-education degree by 2020, says Barbara Brown, the USG’s assistant vice chancellor for transitional and general education. To reach that goal, 250,000 more people would need to graduate from college. As it turns out, there are thousands of Georgians who might be eligible for degrees but don’t know it.
With the help of a Lumina Foundation grant, Credit When It’s Due, officials identify students who transferred before completion, contact them by email and provide them with the information to have their credentials evaluated through a website managed by Parchment, a student-information system. Students must give consent for their current institution to send transcripts to their two-year institution and must agree to have their records updated once the degree has been awarded, according to Brown.
Officials estimate there are roughly 8,000 students within the USG who transferred from one institution to another with 60 credits; students who transferred with slightly fewer credits but subsequently earned more than 60 would qualify for associate degrees, Brown says.
“Among those who transfer, many complete the requirements but don’t apply for the degree,” she says. “They’re so focused on the bachelor’s, they underestimate the advantage of the associate’s.”
Working backward for reverse transfers
Reverse-transfer programs aren’t new, but this one is unique because officials are focusing on students studying at four-year institutions in the system, rather than starting with the two-year schools and trying to find students who’ve moved on.
“We tried to maximize our resources by reaching out to currently enrolled USG students — not picking up other groups of students — and working backwards to find an associate-degree institution. They’re most likely to get degrees, and we can contact them,” Brown says.
The grant money allows the USG to cover whatever degree audit or graduation fees students might incur, so there’s no financial reason for them not to participate.
Working out the kinks
The initiative is not without its challenges. “We underestimated FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] limitations. We thought we could work around it but discovered no, we had to explicitly ask for consent for information exchange and awarding the degree,” Brown says.
In the future, in order to participate in the program, there will be an “opt in” box on applications for new and transferring students to check, not an “opt out” box, explains Brown.
There’s also some concern that the initial emails were perceived as spam, Brown says. “A second round of emails will be combined with a publicity blitz, and we’re hoping to hit parents.”
University institutions are also expected to work together for this program’s success, Brown says. “We’re doing everything we can to facilitate the effort so it won’t be hard. Parchment is part of that effort. We expect to go systemwide in the next few months. We’re working out the bugs with our pilot institutions now.”
Right now, all of the costs are covered by the Lumina grant, Brown says. The USG plans to continue the initiative even after the grant money runs out. “We’re working toward making the effort sustainable and cost-effective to continue.”
This is a relatively simple, low-cost way for both students and the state to reach their goals, Brown says. “It really is a win-win; we find them and tell them. They don’t have to do anything but authorize the exchange of information, and we grant the degree.”